Christian Colleges Grapple with Faithful Politics

Colleges and universities have long been considered hotbeds of social activism, to the exultation of some and the frustration of others. Social movements often find support amidst college students — fledgling civic members who are spending hours upon hours learning to understand America’s history and politics. So it comes as no surprise that in 2015, grassroots responses to institutional racism and the wave of recent changes in our understanding of sexuality gained momentum on college campuses. For readers and viewers of the major American media outlets, all eyes were on these campuses — Missouri, Yale, Claremont McKenna, Wheaton, Liberty, just to name a few — as movements and events on campuses repeatedly made headline news. Waltonian news editor Ryan Klein and staff writer Anthony Barr recap the biggest college news stories of 2015 and how to make sense of them moving forward.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, same-sex marriage and Christian-Muslim relations were sources of controversy in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) throughout the past year. Although (or maybe because) its members strive to “advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education,” such issues are often sure to be hot-button.

Perhaps the largest controversy of the year – in the CCCU itself if not in the larger media – began when Goshen College and Eastern Mennonite University’s decided not to discriminate against potential employees in same-sex marriages. CCCU members have historically pushed for the right of religious organizations to discriminate in such a way, and have believed that marriage should exist between a man and a woman. So Goshen and EMU’s decisions were big news. Many CCCU members immediately called for the schools to be removed from the Council, and it was estimated that up to 40 of the 121 members would remove themselves if that call was not answered. But before anything could be decided, Goshen and EMU left voluntarily, thereby preventing a potential split in the Council. But this did not settle the issue: for the CCCU now must decide whether it will require its members to take a particular stance on this issue. A split may yet occur, especially in light of controversy surrounding Title IX exemption requests.

The controversy surrounding Dr. Larcyia Hawkins of Wheaton College, a CCCU member school, did not threaten such a split, but did receive much national attention. Last December, Dr. Hawkins posted on Facebook that Muslims and Christians “worship the same God,” and said that she planned to wear a hijab in solidarity with Muslims as part of her observation of Advent. After this announcement Wheaton College placed Dr. Hawkins on paid administrative leave “in order to give more time to explore significant questions regarding the theological implications of her recent public statements.” Asked whether Dr. Hawkins was put on leave because of the hijab, Wheaton responded “No. Contrary to some media reports… Dr. Hawkins’ paid administrative leave resulted from theological statements that seem inconsistent with Wheaton College’s doctrinal convictions.” Dr. Hawkins has been on leave since then, and in early February, Wheaton’s Faculty Personnel Committee will hold a hearing regarding her statements, after which the Board of Trustees will make a final decision regarding her employment status at Wheaton.

Many student have protested the Wheaton’s actions against Dr. Hawkins. I know a number of such students, from whom I got the impression that Dr. Hawkins was fired because she wore a hijab. But apparently this was not the case. For me this was a lesson to be slow to grow angry over rumors in the news. Perhaps careful study should precede heated activism.

But that’s not to say there’s no place for anger – a point I am reminded of by the gun-toting president of Liberty University’s recent comment that he’d like to “get those Muslims before they come in and kill.” Liberty is itself a CCCU member – I wonder whether such comments will get Liberty into tough waters in the CCCU.

So careful study and intense emotional reactions need to blend together somehow. That is a challenging ratio to master.


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